When it comes to garbage pickup throughout Rio Arriba County, some residents are wondering what exactly they are paying for.
In a memo to its customers last Friday, North Central Solid Waste Authority General Manager Janet Saucedo announced “temporary service changes for the City of Española and Rio Arriba County residents.” The memo stated: “Effective immediately, we will no longer be picking up trash from side streets, private drives or county roads.” The authority gave residential solid waste customers the option to roll their polycarts to the nearest “major street” or to haul the garbage themselves to a collection center or to the Alcalde Transfer Station.
The announcement attributed the service cuts to “unprecedented and unforeseen national, state and regional solid waste driver and laborer shortages.”
Keisha Rivera, of La Mesilla, said she waited in line for an hour on Tuesday morning when she opted to take her own as well as her elderly grandmother’s garbage to the Alcalde Transfer Station. She said her garbage bin hadn’t been collected in four weeks.
“It’s a big problem for Rio Arriba County,” Rivera said. “There’s no consistency, no communication. I’m disappointed, with it being our only option for service.”
Seeing that her garbage wasn’t being collected, Rivera said she called the authority to figure out what was going on but did not receive any clear answers.
“There have been no big announcements,” she said. “If we had advance notice, we would’ve known. But without someone telling us, we don’t know ... They should be giving us updates, pushing it out weekly. The arroyos are going to fill with trash. The neighborhoods are going to be filled.”
During a phone interview on Tuesday, Saucedo said the authority should have eight to ten drivers and five to six laborers, but it currently employs three drivers and two laborers.
The authority is offering pay from $18.75 to $33 per hour, depending on experience, Saucedo said. Her memo mentions an “aggressive campaign to recruit drivers,” which she said includes print and radio advertisement. The base pay, Saucedo said, has not been increased in two years.
As for communication, Saucedo said the authority was testing out a mass texting system that it might purchase.
Residents and businesses across the county have reported unreliable garbage pickup for months. Unlike the authority’s vehicle crisis in June — during which it suspended commercial garbage pickup due to inoperable trucks — Saucedo said she now has trucks waiting on licensed drivers.
Saucedo indicated that the authority could be requiring customers to self-haul or take their polycarts to main roads into the winter season.
“I’m hoping that we resolve this situation and we don’t have to prolong this ‘self-haul and point to the main road’ situation,” she said, “but I’m looking at the bigger picture. In the event that we’re not there yet, [the weather] is going to be another challenge.”
After the authority posted the notice to its Facebook page last Friday, the post received dozens of comments, almost all of them critical of the agency’s decision to send the message to its customers.
The SUN posted the authority’s notice to Facebook last Friday as well, drawing criticism of the solid waste authority as well as questions about reimbursement for customers who haul their own garbage to a transfer station.
Saucedo said the authority will not be reimbursing payments or offering credit because, she said, curbside pickup is not included in the price.
“What we charge the customers is the rate for disposal at the landfill in Rio Rancho,” Saucedo said.
The current memorandum of agreement between the City of Española and North Central Solid Waste Authority, however, states, “Authority shall provide alley or curbside collection service for the collection of residential refuse to each residential unit one time per week.”
According to the contract, either entity can terminate the agreement if the other breaches any of its provisions and fails to remedy the breach “within a 90 day period following written notice and demand to cure.”
Española City Manager Jordan Yutzy said the city is exploring its options to decide what will be best in the short-term and long-term regarding garbage collection in Española.
An emergency city council meeting was scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. to discuss solid waste issues. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.
“What they’re asking residents to do is unattainable for a lot of our elderly residents,” Yutzy said last Friday. “I’m concerned about stolen polycarts. I’m concerned about polycarts being hit and having trash all over the city ... North Central is violating an MOU we have with them. At this point in time, there are more unanswered questions than there are answers.”
Last Saturday, the City of Española released an announcement urging residents to place their polycarts at their normal locations and promising city staff would be “assisting with moving poly-carts to designated pickup corridors beginning Tuesday and will ensure the entire city is taken care of.”
At a Public Works Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Sue Martinez thanked city staff for their work in assisting with garbage collection that day.
“As it stands right now, the city is doing whatever we can to continue pickup,” Martinez said, “and there will be a special meeting on Thursday to address that.”
The authority is governed by a board of directors that includes members from the City of Española, Rio Arriba County, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and Santa Clara Pueblo.
The board’s public meetings are scheduled to occur monthly, and on July 28, members voted to approve Saucedo’s contract for General Manager that included a salary of $87,000.
The authority’s board of directors is scheduled to meet next on Sept. 15.